Last weekend, the UNLV horn studio went to Paradise Valley Community College in Phoenix for the Southwest Horn Conference, hosted by Rose French. I hadn’t done anything like that before, so it was a really fun experience to be immersed in horn all day for three days. Of course, by Sunday I was horn-ed out, you can only talk about inner rim diameters for so long… But my poor, jellied brain managed to enjoy the last three hour concert, and overall it was an awesome weekend. The soloists and performances were incredible, and the high level of playing was invigorating to witness. I got excited about horn again, after a long winter’s night feeling like my pursuit of music was foolish and I should get a “real” job. Those people all have real jobs, and it involves playing the horn. Maybe there’s hope after all!!
More excitement ensued when I found my soulmate.
(insert dramatic music here)
I bought a used Ricco Kühn triple horn from Ken Pope.. it’s completely different than my Conn 8D. Connstantine (I was 16, don’t judge) has been a faithful horn, but it was time to leave her. There are things people like about 8Ds, but those things turned out to be what I didn’t like in a horn. I thought the 8D sound was what I wanted, but my taste had changed. Hartt was full of 8Ds and 8D copies, and I had always liked the sound. But as I’ve gotten older and paid more attention to the details, the more I realized I was beginning to prefer a different sound. Moving out here and hearing new players that I wanted to sound like brought me closer to this conviction, and then when I wandered by Pope’s table and picked up that horn, it just felt right. I tested it out with my teacher, tested more, thought about it, tested more, slept on it, phone consulted with a friend, then my mom… and then I finally bought the damn thing. When you’re spending that kind of money, you want to be VERY sure it’s the right one!
Aside from the flowery talk getting excited about it, let’s be serious. This horn is a pain to get used to. It’s heavy, the notes all live in different places, and my intonation has completely flown the coop. I sounded like a high schooler in my first rehearsal back at school. But the sound coming out of the bell when I find where I’m supposed to be is making it worth it.
This horn also forces me to chill out. In real life, I’m fairly laid back. But put a horn on my face and I’m completely different. I’m so concerned with being perfect and not having people think badly of me that I try too hard, think too much, and end up sounding bad anyways. But if I’m tense or not using my air right, this horn doesn’t sing and plays 50 cents sharp. There is no room for forgiveness here, and it’s forcing me to be more consistent.
Nietzsche put it best: “Admiration for a quality or art can be so strong that it deters us from striving to possess it.” In college, I was always trying to pick up another major or “thing,” so I could be a history major who played horn well instead of a performance major who wasn’t the top. It’s a wicked cycle, and it took me a long time to realize what was going on. I still struggle to believe that I can be as good as those I admire, but I’m at a point now where I have to man up or shut up. I’m getting too old for that.
In a strange way, this new hunk of metal has help assuage those feelings of inadequacy and focus my efforts. It’s almost like I can’t fail this horn, I have no right to play it less than amazing. I also spent a lot of money that wasn’t mine (Thanks, Uncle Sam!), so I can’t play around on the fence about it anymore.